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Mermaids of The Lagoon

Believed to be the origin of the fish-woman legend, manatees are one of Vero Beach’s great natural attractions.

Last summer, Robyn Swonger did what she does every morning before starting work on Royal Palm Pointe. She stood at the edge of the canal behind the spa she manages, intending to enjoy a few moments of the water, watching for wildlife, absorbing nature’s beauty. But this day bestowed a miracle beyond her wildest dreams.

She spotted the manatee right away. “I usually see at least one manatee a week,” she says, “but they swim in the middle. This one was in the shallowest part of the cove, very close to the end.” She thought the behavior odd and continued to watch. The manatee started “rolling and thrashing. Big bubbles were coming up.” Thinking it was “in distress, possibly sick,” she phoned the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Soon someone called back with amazing news. Robyn had described a manatee in labor. She was about to witness a birth.

In time, the manatee seemed to beach on the bottom, possibly to remain stable and/or conserve energy. Although the water was shallow, it was also cloudy, so the body was difficult to see. The water bubbled. Robyn right before the sun went down. The spectacle was thrilling, the mother-to-be arching her back in labor as everyone cheered her on, hoping for enough daylight to see the delivery. Finally, the newborn bubbled to the surface, “adorable and perfect,” Ann says. Witnessing the birth was particularly special to her because “up till then it had been a very sad day.” Working at FWC’s Indian River field office in Melbourne, she often goes out on manatee rescue and recovery missions. That morning she and other staff had recovered a dead manatee, which is always upsetting.

But nature has a way of giving back. Even the setting sun seemed to slow its descent, permitting them to witness the entire event. She recalls with gratitude that while “the day started with a death, it ended with a birth.”

Read the entire article in the Summer 2011 issue